Her name catches one’s attention first.
“Everyone asks,” Siena Sara said over the phone earlier this week.
No, it’s not a reference to the local college of the same name.
“My parents were in Siena, Italy when (mom) was pregnant with me, and it was one of their favorite places they visited,” Sara said. “So that’s what I was named after.”
The Queensbury native has also made a name for herself as a member of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute women’s swim team. She is the Engineers’ top swimmer in the breaststroke and often competes in medley relays.
A 21-year-old senior, Sara is entering her final week as a collegiate swimmer. Next week, RPI competes in the Upper New York State Collegiate Swimming Association championships at Ithaca College.
“College swimming gave me everything I could have wanted for my career,” Sara said. “I could focus on academics and be part of a really good program. We’re a top 25 D-III school in women’s swimming.”
“She’s a hard worker, she puts the extra work in, and she’s an intense competitor,” RPI swim coach Shannon O’Brien said. “She’s become a big believer in weightlifting to increase her speed. She’s swimming really well.”
Sara’s specialty is the 100- and 200-yard breaststroke, and if she is able to shave a little off her best times, she could make at least the NCAA Division III ‘B’ cut.
“I would like to get my ultimate best time for my 100 and 200 breast, but I don’t have any goal times yet,” Sara said.
“They only take 17-20 (swimmers) per event — she needs to go a little faster to get there,” O’Brien said.
Her personal records are 1 minute, 6.66 seconds in the 100 breast, and 2:22.50 in the 200 breast — the latter is her preferred distance. She was an NCAA B cut last year in the 200.
“The 200 is more comfortable for me. I train more distance strokes,” Sara said. “(Breaststroke) is the stroke that came easiest to me — I seemed to have an aptitude for it. I felt I could compete in it and I like it the most. And I could never get the butterfly down.”
While Sara is a breaststroke specialist, she is versatile enough to fill in other events for the Engineers, like any freestyle distance and the individual medley.
“If we ever need her, she can score some points,” O’Brien said.
Sara started out swimming as a youngster with the Glens Falls Gators club, but moved on to the highly competitive Schenectady-Saratoga Sharks club. She never swam for Queensbury High School.
“Club (swimming) was a big time commitment,” Sara said. “My club specializes in preparing swimmers for collegiate level swimming.”
“We recruited her — we like recruiting local talent and we’ve had good success with kids from Queensbury, Ballston Spa and Clifton Park,” O’Brien said.
Moving on to RPI from club swimming was an adjustment, but she was already swimming a 2:26 in the 200 breaststroke.
“It was really different — in club swimming, I was swimming for myself,” said Sara, a math major who is eyeing a career in data analytics. “College (swimming) is more of a high school vibe. You’re not swimming for yourself, you’re swimming so your team can win.”
She also appreciated not only the more specialized training at the college level, but the fact that the team around her improved and pushed each other.
“Every year, we got more depth, and my training has gotten more elevated because of the team we’ve become,” Sara said.